The mourning bride
1969: The Doom Buggies enter a dark, dusty attic. Various shrieks and moans would punctuate the dank air, but a steady, eerie heartbeat filled the room, growing louder as the carriages would move further into the cobwebbed collection of discarded furniture, gilded antiques, crates and curios. Suddenly, from behind a pile of boxes, a grinning ghost pops upward with a shriek, disappearing nearly as quickly as it came.
Finally turning a last bend, the Haunted Mansion's guests come face-to-veil with the owner of the heartbeat - a forlorn bride, carrying a decaying bouquet in one hand and a lone flickering candle in the other. Her face, hidden in the dark, is punctuated by eyes that glow as embers - and with each heartbeat, her heart glows red through her dusty bridal gown...
Heads off - er, hats off to you
There was a character in the original Haunted Mansion attic scene which was deleted almost immediately. The mysterious bride (pictured, left) has always been there, waiting for guests at the atic window, her heart pulsing loudly and glowing blood red. But early in the Mansion's history, she had a suitor, of sorts.
Pictured in the photo below is Yale Gracey, one of the Mansion's original design team, posing in a press photo with the proposed "Hatbox Ghost," an audio-animatronic character that was positioned in the original attic with the ghostly bride.
Gracey's attic ghost had long been thought to have been another "Pepper's Ghost" (reflection-based) illusion, though Imagineer Chris Merritt has since discovered that the effect was accomplished directly with lighting effects, as explained in E-Ticket Magazine #30. The small space of the attic's stage, along with the intended close proximity to the Doom Buggy track, yielded disappointing results, so the illusion was scrapped. Had the illusion been a success, the Hatbox Ghost would have appeared to be standing near the exit of the attic, holding a cane in one hand and a hatbox in the other. With every beat of the bride's heart, the Hat Box Ghost's head would disappear, and reappear in the hatbox. For more information on the Hatbox Ghost, read about the tales from the Haunted Mansion.
Nuptial Doom: The Bride's Tale
Back in the '70s, a young girl named Kat would listen raptly to stories told to her by her father, a marketing professional who worked closely with people at Disneyland on various projects. One of the stories he had heard directly from the Imagineers was a proposed tale of the bride in the Haunted Mansion attic, so Kat heard the story from her father many times during her youth. In 2006, DoomBuggies.com partnered with Kat Cressida, who as an adult has become a successful voice over talent for many Disney films and projects, to record the stories she had heard of the attic bride. In cooperation with Walt Disney Records and Walt Disney Imagineering, the script was produced and the story recorded - and you can hear it for yourself. Click here to read more.
Trivia time: Fashioning a make-shift break room
Haunted Mansion cast member Shawn Potts shares a bit of insider information: "The attic's bride blocks the entrance to the "blue room." The blue room is a small room located directly behind the bride. You had to walk around her to get to it. The original purpose of this room was to allow maintenance to access the pipe organ ghosts effect. However, a cast member somehow snuck a small pallet mattress up there. And for a short while it was used as a makeshift break area for the cast members doing Utility positions. It overlooks the graveyard, so you'd have a nice view while you nap."
Updating the attic, part 1: A woeful wedding party
In the '90s, WDI revisited the attic scene at Disneyland and decided to amplify the story of the lonely bride (possibly to capitalize on conceptual work that had been done for the development of Phantom Manor, in which the bride becomes a major figure.) Prior to the renovation, the bride had proven to be an illusive character, often causing confusion, since her close proximity to the Doom Buggy path and identifiable gown would cause many guests to wonder what the character's purpose was. After all, brides are typically identified with joyous occassions. An amplification of her purpose could bring real chills to the scene.
So the "wedding" aspect of the attic scene was developed and implemented during this time. Since there were already a number of "pop-up" ghosts in the attic (pneumatically-controlled busts that were designed to burst upward in an effort to shock unsuspecting visitors), those characters were easily turned into "groomsmen" by dressing them in tuxedos (see photo, above left). Their shrieks and moans were changed to ominous, taunting "I Dos."
Rather than appearing forlorn and lost, the Bride, having been given a dramatic make-over, now seems to reign over the attic's bizarre proceedings. A ghostly pianist was also added (similar to the effect at Walt Disney World's Haunted Mansion), with a wispy projected shadow seemingly playing the Bridal Chorus in a minor key. This marks the only piece of any Haunted Mansion soundtrack that plays music based on a melody other than Buddy Baker's and X Atencio's "Grim Grinning Ghosts." DoomBuggies forum moderator Jester has transcribed this gloomy version of Wagner's classic tune, which you can download here.
Little bride blue
During this time, both Walt Disney World's and Disneyland's brides received make-overs, to mixed reviews. Both received blue-tinted faces, and in the case of the bride pictured at left, a wild halo of wavy hair. Fans positioned behind and below the animatronics made the brides' gowns and hair billow in the darkness. A hydraulic support was also added underneath the audio-animatronic, making the bride appear to be floating. Whirling bats above add even more motion to the scene (see photo, below).
In whatever forms the Attic has changed over the years, the fact remains that the bride is destined to remain the mysterious "heart" of the Haunted Mansion attraction, partly due to her confounding presence, and partly due to myths and tales that have existed since the attraction was on the drawing board back in the '60s.
In Storyboard Magazine, X Atencio makes the point: "The storyline was supposed to be about a bride who died, and they have an illusion of a bride in a bridal costume, her heart thumping away. The bride beckons with a flickering candle as her heart pounds loudly, glowing the color of blood."
Updating the attic, part 2: The rise of Constance
In the early 2000s, rumors abounded that WDI was going to make some major upgrades to Disneyland in honor of the park's 50th anniversary. As it happens, some significant upgrades were performed on the Haunted Mansion in special-effects technology, as well as improvements to the ride's infrastructure. In 2004, the Seance Circle was upgraded, adding levitation to Madame Leota's bag of tricks. And in early 2006, the attic bride was given a name, a sharp-witted new persona - and a sharp-edged weapon, as well. Now named "Constance," the bride seems to have taken up residence in the attic, displaying souvenirs from her numerous trips down the altar - all of which seem to have ended in tragedy. (The Constance portrait, above left, is used courtesy of Robert Miller.)
Veiled in mystery
The bride was removed from her perch near the attic window (which itself was the perch originally assigned to the short-lived Hatbox Ghost), and she now appears in the opposite corner of the attic - a glowing spectral form with her veil and draping gown billowing in a ghostly breeze. Rather than being a '60s-era audio-animatronic form, the new bride takes after Madame Leota and the singing busts from the graveyard by showing her lively side via projected footage. This new bride - by turns comical and menacing - offers pithy comments to guests as they pass through the attic, such as "in sickness, and in wealth," or "'til death do us part," as she raises and lowers a gleaming hatchet that appears out of thin air, then disappears again.
While much of Constance's story is left to the imagination, there are some hints in the newly-packed attic that give guests insight into the character. A series of wedding portraits are displayed among the various wedding gifts and ceremonial trappings scattered throughout the attic - and as guests pass each photo, the heads of Constance's former grooms disappear from, and then reappear in each portrait. In one portrait, Constance holds a rose while posing next to her groom named "George," echoing one of the stretching portraits at the beginning of the ride that picures a widow holding a rose as she stands over the grave of her dearly departed husband George, whose headstone has been hacked at with a hatchet.
In 2007, the Walt Disney World Haunted Mansion underwent a major rehab, and Constance was added to the attic scene there as well. In this case, the effect might be considered "Constance 2.0," as the projection and static form seem to have been enhanced slightly from the Disneyland version of the effect. At right, you can see a view of the static form under room lighting (photo courtesy of Jeff at WDW), superimposed with a photo of the second-generation Constance as she appears in the operating attraction (photo courtesy of Imagineering My Way), wearing more obvious jewelry than the Disneyland version of the effect (including her gleaming wedding ring). By more strongly emphasizing the jewelry, the story of Constance's murderous climb up the strata of society is made more plain, and more menacing.
A "Black Widow" Bride
The voice of Constance (who is also known at WDI as "the Black Widow Bride") was performed by Disney voice over artist Kat Cressida (pictured, right). Cressida's performance was also utilized for the creation of the projected image, though there is some considerable CG work involved with the final product, which may have utilized other performance material as well. A high-definition video projection onto a static form with practical blowing veils completes the effect, which is incredible to watch and adds a new layer of menace to the residents of the Haunted Mansion. To learn more about Cressida's experience while creating Constance, listen to DoomBuggies' exclusive interview with her here.
The actress who portrays Constance in her earlier days as a young bride in the various wedding portraits scattered throughout the attic is Julia Lee (pictured, left). In addition to her contributions to the Haunted Mansion's attic, Lee has also appeared on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and in feature films such as "A Man Apart" and "Grind."
Making an escape
The spot where the old bride once stood at the attic window where the Doom Buggies make their escape has been covered over with attic junk, but remains essentially vacant. Perhaps, someday, a long-lost resident of the attic might find his way back to his former home... or at least, fans can always hope. But for now, the Doom Buggies pass Constance's threats and leave the Haunted Mansion through an attic window, at which point they spin around and "fall" toward the ground off of the roof through a grove of menacing trees, with their riders leaning backward.